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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5853

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (16:40): Before I speak in support of this MPI, I want to put on the record that the initial image problem Senator Birmingham alluded to came from the government side of the chamber when the then Senator the Hon. David Johnston said: 'I wouldn't trust the ASC to build a canoe!' And where is David Johnston now? The government of the day had to do the repair work. They had to do the damage control. Under former Prime Minister Abbott and under Prime Minister Turnbull, they have been in damage control—and we just thought there had been some progress made.

It's interesting to note that, on 18 April 2016, the Hon. Christopher Pyne, accompanied by the Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister, promised continuous jobs for workers at Osborne in my state, probably for several generations, because of this promised activity. We know, through some paperwork that Senator Xenophon has got, that the tender document speaks in another way:

The successful tenderer will not be directed to utilise any particular shipbuilding workforce or engage any particular provider of shipbuilding services …

And then it says:

In particular, the Commonwealth is not mandating that the successful tenderer use the workforce of ASC …

Those two statements appear to be poles apart. So what did Mr Pyne say today? The federal Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, said it would be impossible for the government to mandate that the local workforce, such as ASC in Australia, would be employed by the bidder. He said:

[That] would put the workforce in a ridiculous bargaining position, holding the bidders completely over a barrel.

Mr Pyne said it would be illogical for the bidders to bring a workforce from anywhere else, and he was confident the Australian workers would be employed.

The wriggling has started. They had an electoral imperative. They had to win an election. As Senator Carr said, they ran a marginal seats campaign. They convinced electors in South Australia that they were on the right track and that ASC—with the addition of Austal, from your own fair state, Acting Deputy President Sterle—would be at the forefront of it. Austal briefed me, as Senator Fawcett has said, and I was impressed. For every ship they build in Australia they build five overseas—for the United States. They were teaming up with ASC and they're not going to be mandated. This government will say, 'Pick whoever you like.' We've got an Australian company, without government assistance, that makes one ship in Australia and five overseas. But we're not going to say, 'You have to look at them.' We're not going to say that they, with the partnership of ASC, are the place to go. We're not going to say that, because, according to Mr Pyne, it would put them in a ridiculous bargaining position.

Mr Pyne goes on to say there is a workforce of 1,800 and there will be a requirement for 5,000. I know some workers at ASC. They're very proud of the work they do, they're very skilled at the work they do, and they understand how shipbuilding works. They understand that the ship is designed, you build it, you trial it and then you move on to the next project. And, like construction workers, they do accept that there are breaks in their tenure. This minister has started wriggling. Really, he's been found out. Otherwise, this would have been all glossed over and they'd have another political disaster like the one they're having this week, where they can't even hold their heads up in parliament. They're the government, their heads are all down, and here we go again. They've been saying one thing and doing another. When the spotlight comes on them, heads go down and wriggling starts. The Hon. Christopher Pyne starts making contradictory statements—four dot points. Read them carefully. Think about it. On one hand, he's saying we'd put the workforce in a ridiculous bargaining position. On the other hand, he's saying there are only 1,800 of them, and we need 5,000. He just goes round and round and round.

I do take the point from Senator Fawcett that there is good work being done in this space. Intellectual property in Thales and Saab and BAE—all of those things are vital to our state, and they do employ South Australians. But the minister ought to get this one right.